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"There's always a way" at Blue Ridge

By Ted Brewster

Middle/High School Principal Casey Webster introduced an updated version of the Graduation Handbook for this year to the Blue Ridge School Board at its meeting on October 4th. She suggested that the updates were relatively minor, but Director of Curriculum & Instruction Matthew Nebzydoski pointed out that it offers a number of "fair" ways for seniors to approach their graduation requirements.  The Keystone exam isn't the only path to graduation.

While all seniors are expected to sit for the Keystone test, the new graduation requirements handbook outlines several "pathways to graduation" made available by Act 158 of 2018, only one of which requires passing the Keystone. For example, acceptance at a 4-year college is enough to guarantee graduation. Career-oriented students can qualify by meeting some certification requirements or completing a pre-apprenticeship program. Students are encouraged to consult their guidance counselors for more information.

With her colleague, Elementary School Principal Danelle Decker, Ms. Webster opened the meeting by introducing her chosen senior for September, who needed no introduction because Jacob Birtch is also the student government's president as well as representative to the school board itself. Mr. Birtch is on the cusp of earning his Eagle Scout distinction, and will attend a bible college for a year before trying for the Air Force Academy, hoping to become a pilot.

Ms. Webster also announced 2021 Harford Fair Queen Isabelle Edwards as Senior Artist of the Month.  Ms. Edwards hopes to attend Lock Haven University next year.

Ms. Decker introduced her 5th-grade Citizen of the Month, Isabella Montague as horseback rider and barrel racer who also enjoys reading.

Ms. Decker's other choice, Jackson Parks, an athlete who likes math, was not able to attend the meeting.

Along the way, Board President Jessica Wright recognized colleague Chris Lewis for 8 years of service on the Blue Ridge School Board.

Before the meeting opened, Ms. Wright announced an earlier executive session that discussed purchase of some property in connection with the district's capital improvement plan; she also mentioned something about cost savings related to "on-campus" versus "off-campus" options. There is often little clarity with respect to executive sessions.

The Board expected to review its capital improvement plan with Sam Scarantino of Quad 3, the engineering firm that oversees many of the larger projects at Blue Ridge. Mr. Scarantino did not attend the meeting, but a report of the Board's Facilities Committee said that expected work on the roof systems will have to be postponed until next year due to manufacturing delays.

Administrators reported the schools "getting back to a normal routine." Ms. Decker told the Board that 182 of her scholars had met their summer reading goals. Special Education Director Margot Parsons will be placing more emphasis on services for autistic children, and told the Board that October is Down Syndrome awareness month. Mr. Birtch reported on the High School's Homecoming plan, including a dance with a New York City theme. The play this year will be Snow White, not a musical, but involving actors from both the Middle and High Schools.

Superintendent Matthew Button reported no major changes in the district's health & safety plan, required for Blue Ridge to continue to receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) program. He told the board to expect a review of the mask mandate from the state early in November. He also said that an antibody test may no longer substitute for a regular COVID test. Asked if the district could perform testing itself, Mr. Button said that permission from the state is required, followed by training, so it wouldn't be coming very soon. He also said he expected more changes from the state Department of Health in the near future.

The formal agenda for the meeting was almost an afterthought, most of it routine. The Board tabled approval of the latest update to the health & safety plan; Business Manager Brian Dolan also recommended tabling an agreement for computer services with Government Software Services (GSS). GSS prints and mails most of the district's tax bills and homestead/farmstead exemption forms, but Mr. Dolan said that the county is considering changes that might affect the Board's decision.

Altogether, the meeting was fairly brief, as such things go these days. Everyone was wearing facemasks, and no one was objecting. Back to normal, indeed. Try the next one, scheduled for Monday, October 25, 2021 beginning at 6:00pm in the cafeteria in the Elementary School, and via Zoom.

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No Skid Steer for Great Bend

By Ted Brewster

Last month Great Bend Borough's sole maintenance employee, Dan Stroka, asked Council to consider buying a more versatile skid steer to replace the town's aging backhoe and tractor. At their October meeting on the 7th, after an extended discussion, the request was turned aside.

Borough Secretary Sheila Guinan had gotten a single bid on a 5-year $25,000 loan from Peoples Security Bank & Trust to help pay for the machine. And Mr. Stroka got bids from three vendors for roughly equivalent new machines, all just under $50,000. Council members agonized over the issue, particularly Matt Post, who, when asked for his take, simply shook his head, unsure how to respond. When Council President Rick Franks called for a motion, he got one, and a reluctant second, but the on the final vote only two members clearly supported the move.

The crux of the decision seemed to come down to who would operate the thing. Mr. Stroka himself is only a part-time employee, and admits that he spends most of his time in the summer mowing grass. There didn't seem to be much recoverable value in the old equipment, so the Borough would ultimately have to pay over $50,000 for something Council didn't see a real need for.

What they don't need but certainly want is an upgrade to Lee Weigand Memorial Park in the middle of town, particularly since the Borough won't have to foot the bill. Once again Liz Landes appeared before Council with an update on her efforts to renovate the park with grants. She offered a large rendering provided by the engineers designing the project that can be seen in the Borough building. The engineers are fond of trees, so the plan shows more of them than will end up in the park, according to Ms. Landes, who said that two maple trees, each worth about $189, will be donated to the effort by her husband and Bruno's bike shop.

Ms. Landes told Council that her application for a Marcellus Legacy Fund mini grant was denied, but that was primarily for a water fountain that she is determined to have installed regardless. Otherwise, she worked with forester Jim Kessler to plan the location of the trees; and she recruited some local youngsters to help pick out some of the playground equipment that will be installed. She said that construction should begin next May.

And, she is already planning for a "Community Christmas" event that will require closing some streets for a few hours on November 20. The little town's premiere booster continues her efforts to breathe more life into the community.

Council is moving ahead with more plans for VFW Memorial Recreation Park. They accepted the low bid of $17,000 to remove the structures from a pair of parcels they bought last summer adjoining the park. Members began to bandy about ideas for refurbishing the large space thus provided. Ms. Landes chimed in on this one, too. She said that some elderly veterans would like to spiff up the entrance to that park as a more fitting memorial. Since the VFW is responsible for that location under an agreement with the Borough, she was directed to them to begin discussions; once something is arranged with the VFW, the matter would then come again before the Borough Council.

In other matters:

  • Council voted to donate $100 to the Great Bend Hose Company for their educational program at Blue Ridge;

  • Council agreed – upon vetting by solicitor Frank O'Connor – to renew the 4-year franchise agreement with Adams Cable for a 5% cut of the base subscriber rate;

  • Council will begin the process of condemning a decrepit property that will probably eventually lead to demolition;

  • Council heard from Police Chief Jon Record of a need to replace his department's aging portable radios; the police are also beginning to ticket cars illegally parked on Carrol Street next to the Kime Apartment building.

The next public meeting of the Great Bend Borough Council is scheduled for Thursday, November 4, 2021 beginning at 7:00pm in the Borough Building at Elizabeth & Franklin Streets.

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